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49ers defense used a variety of combinations in Week 1

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The San Francisco 49ers got creative with their defensive personnel groups in Week 1. We break down what they looked like against the Minnesota Vikings.

The San Francisco 49ers had a pretty sizable turnover on defense this season, and that led to plenty of questions about that side of the ball. Replacing guys like Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Patrick Willis, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox was naturally going to leave some folks skeptical about the unit. However, the changes may have forced the team into a situation that could prove beneficial this season.

The folks at NFLGSIS.com (NFL Game Statistics Information System) provide a ton of information about personnel usage. Matt Maiocco tweeted out this screenshot of the team's defensive combinations from Monday Night Football.

That's useful information to have. Unfortunately, their collection process removes a lot of value after Week 1. They accrue the information cumulatively, so, next week, they will just add to the totals. So, if the 49ers run that first formation again 15 times against the Steelers, it will be listed as 30 on this page. If they do not use that top formation in Week 2, it will still be listed, but still with 15. If I had more time, I'd do something to sort through them in the coming weeks, but unfortunately I just do not have the time, nor the database knowledge to set this up in an easier fashion.

That being said, it does give us something fun to look at for Week 1. I took that information from NFLGSIS, and tried to provide it in a slightly more visual manner. Down below, you'll see each personnel listing sorted out by what would be the linemen, the linebackers and the secondary. This is based on their listings, not on watching film, so I am pretty sure it is not 100 percent accurate. But I think it is a useful starting point. If anybody wants to dive into this further between the report and the game film, feel free to hit me up at ninersnation@gmail.com.

The 49ers-Vikings gamebook listed out the starting lineups on both sides of the ball, and they actually listed Jimmie Ward as a starter at nickel back. It was an odd looking starting lineup because it was missing an OLB or defensive end (depending on base vs. nickel). It listed Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams and Quinton Dial on the line, NaVorro Bowman, Michael Wilhoite and Ahmad Brooks at linebacker, and then Tramaine Brock, Kenneth Acker, Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid in the secondary.

In reality, the 49ers never actually used that combination a single time. The most used defensive was the base 3-4, with Aaron Lynch as the second outside linebacker, and no Jimmie Ward. Ward got 12 snaps on this listing (others suggest 13), while Dontae Johnson came on for 19. There was one play in which the 49ers went with what would appear to be a dime defense that included both Johnson and Ward.

What this does show us is the 49ers are willing to mix and match personnel extensively. We saw a healthy mix of Johnson and Ward. We also saw a big rotation along the defensive line. Arik Armstead, Tank Carradine and Tony Jerod-Eddie all got some opportunities. I have to think we see a lot more of that throughout the season.

18 plays
Dorsey-Williams-Dial
Brooks-Bowman-Wilhoite-Lynch
Acker-Bethea-Reid-Brock

9 plays
Brooks-Armstead-Tank-Lynch
Bowman-Tartt
Acker-Brock-Bethea-Reid-Johnson

5 plays
Dorsey-Williams-Dial-Lynch
Bowman-Wilhoite
Acker-Ward-Bethea-Reid-Brock

5 plays
TJE-Williams-Dorsey
Brooks-Bowman-Wilhoite-Lynch
Acker-Bethea-Reid-Brock

4 plays
TJE-Williams-Dorsey
Brooks-Bowman-Wilhoite
Acker-Ward-Bethea-Reid-Brock

3 plays
Brooks-Armstead-Tank-Harold
Bowman-Tartt
Acker-Brock-Bethea-Reid-Johnson

3 plays
Brooks-Tank-Harold
Bowman-Wilhoite-Tartt
Acker-Brock-Bethea-Reid-Johnson

2 plays
Lynch-Tank-Harold
Bowman-Wilhoite-Tartt
Acker-Brock-Bethea-Reid-Johnson

2 plays
Dorsey-Williams-Dial
Bowman-Wilhoite-Brooks
Acker-Ward-Bethea-Reid-Brock

1 play
Dorsey-Williams-Dial
Brooks-Skov-Wilhoite-Lynch
Acker-Bethea-Reid-Brock

1 play
Lynch-TJE-Brooks
Bowman-Tartt
Acker-Brock-Bethea-Reid-Ward-Johnson

1 play
Brooks-TJE-Dial-Lynch
Bowman-Tartt
Acker-Brock-Bethea-Reid-Johnson